Riverfest music festival suspended after 40 years

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,117 views 

The Riverfest Board of Directors on Tuesday (July 18) announced its annual music festival in downtown Little Rock has been suspended.

The festival has been an annual event held alongside the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock since 1977, and its latest event wrapped up in June.

Riverfest Executive Director DeAnna Korte cited increased competition from larger, for-profit music festivals as contributing to the rising cost to bring in musical acts, according to a press release.

“For a nonprofit like Riverfest, it’s about income vs. expenses,” Korte said, adding that the event’s annual budget of $2.6 million is “shoestring” in the world of music festivals, where it costs $300,000 to run two stages, $200,000 for security, $60,000 for fencing and $30,000 to clean the grounds.

“With our bills paid, and our heads held high, we are closing the doors,” Riverfest board member and former Chair Cheddy Wigginton said in the release.

At its height, Riverfest hosted more than 250,000 attendees, but the festival saw “significant” losses in 2015, that organizers tied to rising ticket costs, according to the release. Organizers also moved the event away from Memorial Day the following year in hopes to increase attendance, but the numbers still didn’t work.

“We trimmed over $300,000 in expenses between 2015 and 2016. But we also want to provide a quality event. The things that we could control, we controlled to the best of our ability. But there are a lot of uncontrolled variables,” Korte said. “The music industry as a whole has changed, and it is very difficult to compete.”

Riverfest began as The Summer Arts Festival in Murray Park, with activities surrounding a performance from the American Wind Symphony.

With the event’s success, organizers decided to host an annual event. The date was changed to Memorial Day weekend, and the name was changed to Riverfest.

Riverfest moved downtown in 1982. In 1983, it moved to Julius Breckling Riverfront Park, and more than 100,000 people attended the festival that year, according to the release. A full-time executive director was hired in 1987, and the event continued to grow, expanding to the North Shore Riverwalk in North Little Rock from 2002 to 2010. In 2009, the festival expanded to include the Clinton Presidential Park and library.

Riverfest reports giving $1 million back to the community from proceeds of the event, including the development of Riverfront Park, a new roof on the First Security Amphitheater, and various projects in the riverfront and downtown areas. The festival also donates $1 of every ticket sold to the city of Little Rock, according to the press release.

Talk Business & Politics will update this story.

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